Steelers’ draft-and-develop strategy remains unchanged despite NFL trends – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

PITTSBURGH – Boarding a Super Bowl Parade Float in Los Angeles earlier this season. Los Angeles RamsLes Snead, general manager, wore a Tshirt with an image of his face and his unofficial motto for the 2022 season.

“F— them picks.”

It’s the same phrase former Kansas City ChiefsReceiver Tyreek Hill invoked during his first availability in Miami after the Dolphins gave up five draft picks — including a 2022 first-rounder — to secure the speedster’s services.

Since 2018, 17 trades have involved at least one first-round selection to acquire a veteran. In the offseason, four trades were made in which a team used a 1st-round pick to acquire a veteran. Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Deshaun WatsonHill. In total, there were seven first-round picks traded for veteran players in March, the most in any single month since the common draft era began in 1967, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But as teams around the league mirror Snead’s future-mortgaging moves in a bid to win now, the Pittsburgh SteelersWe are sticking to the draft-first principle which has guided the organization from its inception.

“I think we have a definitive business model that we adhere to,” coach Mike Tomlin said from the NFL owners meetings last month. “We don’t care what the Joneses are doing.”

That philosophy was a driving force behind the Steelers’ aggressive pursuit of free-agent quarterback Mitch Trubisky, with whom they agreed to terms just an hour into the NFL’s early negotiating window.

Not only does Trubisky’s skill set mesh with offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s concepts but he also didn’t cost the Steelers any draft picks — something Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert brought up in three separate interviews throughout the owners meetings. It’s why Trubisky was a more attractive option than Watson, Wilson or Jimmy Garoppolo. Trubisky is a free agent, which cost $14.25 million over 2 years. It gives Pittsburgh the freedom to add another player or address other positions such as safety, defensive line, and offensive line. (Round 1 on ESPN, ABC, ESPN App)

“When we went into it, we were trying to hold our draft capital,” Colbert said of the team’s free-agency approach. “We really didn't want to get into the trade-type areas because we felt there's other players we need those picks to secure. So, if we could get into it and get a good young quarterback, a successful quarterback like Mitch Trubisky, it made sense for us to do it when we did it.”

Steelers are a draft-and develop team. They take pride in their homegrown products, such as Terry Bradshaw and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The rest of the league, and more specifically the AFC, engages in an arms race to the detriment of draft picks in their quest to win now. However, the Steelers remain true to their principles.

“I don't think they'll ever shut off a chance or disregard a chance to put themselves in that position to compete for championships,” said Doug Whaley, a Pittsburgh native who spent 11 years as Pittsburgh’s pro scouting coordinator before an eventual stint as the Buffalo Bills’ general manager. “But they also have that balancing act of not acquiescing to moves that may be popular or ones that you think may be a quick fix for right now and sacrifice something in the long term. Because they want stability. Not only on the field, but also off it. One of the ways to do that is through the draft.”

The Steelers have only traded their first-round pick six times since 1967. This is second-fewest after only the Jacksonville JaguarsThe league has been around half the time since 1995, when they were only half-way through their tenure.

The Steelers’ philosophy traces back to the 1970s, when they built the backbone of their dynasty on drafted players. The Steelers drafted four Hall of Famers in their first five rounds of 1974: wide receivers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and linebacker Jack Lambert, and center Mike Webster. Bradshaw and Mel Blount were drafted by Pittsburgh in the same decade. Also, linebacker Jack Ham, and running back Franco Harris were drafted. In 1969's first round, Joe Greene was also selected by the Steelers as the defensive tackle. The Steelers won four Super Bowls with this homegrown foundation in six seasons.

“It comes back from what started their run as a successful team that consistently competes for championships,” Whaley said. “… And it starts with the Rooneys. The Rooneys don't belong to a football-loving family. They are passionate about football. This is their business. … They have been raised in football. They've seen passing trends, but they also know that the ones who consistently compete and are in the conversation are those that draft and develop. They have had great success. If it's not broke, don't try to fix it.”

Colbert assumed the role of general manager in 2000. The Steelers have had nine picks in the first round that were selected for multiple Pro Bowls. They are tied with the Chiefs in terms of most Pro Bowls.

Pittsburgh’s ability to select impactful first-rounders is also evident in the volume of second contracts given to those picks. From 2000 to 2017, the organization has given second contracts to 11 of its 18 first-round picks for a hit rate of 61% — fifth-highest in the NFL over the span after the Panthers, Texans, Cowboys and Eagles, according to ESPN Stats & Info data. Just 43% is the average hit rate across all leagues, as measured by first-round draft picks signing a second agreement with their draft team.

But the Steelers also haven’t played in a Super Bowl in over a decade, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 2016, making their refusal to adapt to the league’s aggressive all-in trend either admirable or … ill-advised.

“We’re open to learning and growing, don’t misunderstand me there, but in terms of how we acquire talent, our approach to acquiring talent, we have a definitive model,” Tomlin said. “We build our team primarily through the draft, and we supplement in free agency. And that’s just a philosophical approach that we believe in. We want them to grow and develop as young people as well as as players. So you draft them.”

Pittsburgh is starting to modernize its strategies. Though the Steelers ultimately didn’t execute any blockbuster trades in the first wave of the 2022 offseason, they spent more than $80 million on outside free agents. They also traded away a first round pick to acquire safety Minkah FitzpatrickIn 2019, the Dolphins traded up to a select linebacker Devin BushIn the 2019 draft. Fitzpatrick was traded by Pittsburgh for a first-rounder to acquire a veteran.

“It’s the foundation of what they do, but that doesn't mean they're gonna bite their nose off to spite their face,” Whaley said. “They’re always gonna take it on a case-by-case basis, but they're not gonna make a tectonic shift to say, ‘OK now we're gonna trade three first-rounders and three second-rounders away for this one person. To move up and get a man, you might give up one of your first-rounders. [in the draft], yeah.”

The organization has an opportunity to pursue a different direction when a new general manager takes over for Colbert in the months after the draft, but with Art Rooney II still installed as the team’s president and Tomlin as the head coach, the Steelers’ core tenets likely won’t change.

Leave a Comment